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Park , FL news
Hyde Park Cafe:
Tampa's top bar
By Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, June 26, 2009
At 1 a.m., while much
of the world is asleep, a crowd gathers
outside the Hyde Park Cafe. Girls shimmer
in their weekend best ultra-short dresses
and sky-high heels. Guys pay the $10
cover charge as if by instinct.
Everyone is buffed,
shined and in the mood to party.
Only it's not a Friday
or a Saturday night, or even Hump Day.
It's a boring Tuesday.
At the Hyde Park Cafe,
Tuesdays are anything but boring. Basketball
greats Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
have hit the cafe on a Tuesday. So have
baseball's Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield.
Chances are, most of Tampa's bar crowd
has stopped by, too, and paid the consequences
on Wednesday, with no remorse.
Tuesdays put the cafe
on the map and fueled its reputation
as a top spot for clubbing, music and
good times among the young, beautiful
and even infamous. Remember ex-American
Idol contestant Jessica Sierra's glass-throwing
incident in 2007?
"Every type of
walk of life has been through there,''
said event planner Brooke Palmer, who
has put on several parties at the cafe,
including a charity gala by former Bucs
player Warren Sapp. "The music
is always great. It's always packed,
and the girls are always hot.''
When fickle customers
faded other bars into obscurity, the
cafe has endured and evolved. Its longevity,
innovation and overall ability to stay
hip make the Hyde Park Cafe tbt*'s Ultimate
Drinking Destination for 2009.
• • •
To know the Hyde Park
Cafe, you have to know the owner, Tommy
Ortiz. The 38-year-old was born in Tampa,
one of six children raised in a strict
Southern Baptist household. He graduated
from Jefferson High School in 1988 but
skipped college to work in bars.
If the cafe and his
other businesses, which include Cheap
restaurant and the Kennedy lounge, have
made him rich, he doesn't show it. Ortiz
wears the same outfit every day — black
T-shirt, shorts and a bandanna — and
drives a 1997 Toyota pickup with no
A/C. He has a soft spot for shih tzus,
fluffy little dogs with underbites.
He owns eight.
In a rare sitdown interview,
he offered his take on the cafe, in
good times and bad.
It was 1995, and Ortiz
had recently closed Tuts Pyramid, an
underground hip-hop club on Franklin
Street. He was driving along Platt Street
and saw a gay strip club called Bunz
had shut down. As he called the property
owner to inquire, a woman posted a "for
rent'' notice on a duplex behind the
Ortiz took it as a sign.
He rented the duplex for $500 a month
and the bar for $1,500.
"I was 25 years
old and had $15,000 to my name,'' he
said. "I could buy a car or buy
For inspiration on the
club's decor, Ortiz took a monthlong
trip to Europe. One of his sisters bought
him an Eurail Pass, and on a train from
France to Barcelona, the name was born:
Hyde Park Cafe.
Back then, Platt was
aesthetically miles from Hyde Park,
a high-brow South Tampa neighborhood.
Needles littered the streets. Crime
The bar also wasn't
a cafe. It was a small, filthy building
with terrible plumbing. The current
courtyard was a parking lot, and the
building on the property's east side
was a warehouse.
"I remember people
asking, 'You're going to open a dance
club in a 1,500-square-foot place?'
'' Ortiz said.
• • •
The early days were
tough due to competition from fancier
clubs, such as Mangroves around the
corner. Ortiz had eight bar stools and
four employees, including one who just
showed up at the door looking for work.
He said he hadn't eaten for three days.
For inspiration, Ortiz
looked to books. Among his favorites:
Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
Every Monday, he read passages to his
staff about the moneymaking strategies.
The next Monday, he gave them a written
The cafe survived on
a following from Tuts, where Ortiz met
DJ Jask, who introduced Ortiz to house
music. Jask became a hit at the cafe,
where he remains a Tuesday-night staple.
Ortiz also tried gimmicks,
like the time he bought $1,000 worth
of tomatoes and other edible projectiles
for an Animal House-style food fight.
To keep employees happy, he let them
drink on the job.
Still, the cafe struggled.
Ortiz leaned on God to keep focused.
"I didn't know it wasn't supposed
• • •
Help — and money — arrived
in the form of Chris Scott in 1999.
Scott owned Club Joy in Carrollwood
and had been scoping out the cafe for
insight on the Tuesday night success.
He was the guy who was going to build
They closed the cafe
for several months in June 2000 to create
what's there today: the Cafe Courtyard,
the Velociti dance room and WB's lounge,
named after Chris and Tommy's dogs,
Wally and Bernie. A photo of Bernie,
Tommy's shih tzu who has since died,
hangs on a wall.
"We came out and
crushed everyone,'' Ortiz said.
With success, however,
came complacency, he said. Customer
service tanked, and patrons complained
about rudeness. Then Blue Martini opened
at International Plaza. Within three
weeks, the cafe's Friday night crowd
shrank from 1,500 to 300.
Ortiz needed a revolution.
He found it in the pages
of Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great
Service, based on a successful deli
in Ann Arbor, Mich. He took the principles
about treating customers like royalty
and made it his mantra. Business boomed.
• • •
More recently, the cafe
hasn't escaped tough economic times.
Last month, it dropped Friday nights
because there wasn't enough business
to go around. It's open Tuesdays, Thursdays
and Saturdays and available for private
events on Fridays, a rarity among nightclubs.
On a good night, the
cafe attracts 750 to 800 people, down
from years ago but still strong. It
continues to attract top house music
DJs drawn to the intimacy and intensity
of the Velociti room.
"The cafe is truly
about the music,'' said former Amphitheater
owner John Santoro, a promoter who books
acts for HPC. "Their whole philosophy
is centered around music. After that,
everything comes into place.''
Ortiz wonders if the
recession might be a good reason to
rework the club, yet again. He sees
a great future, but one that might not
"I know I'm on
borrowed time,'' he said. "I've
been so blessed, I have to give back.''
After years of leading
people to cocktails, he says, it might
be time to lead them to God.
Hyde Park Church has
a nice ring to it. Maybe with services
Hyde Park Cafe
1806 W Platt St., Tampa.
(813) 254-2233, thehydeparkcafe.com
[Last modified: Jun
29, 2009 03:32 PM]